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Accentuate the Positive: How Stay Interviews Stave Off Exit Interviews

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Businesses might want to toss the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality into the dustbin when it comes to your employees and how they feel about their jobs.

Why? Because waiting until an employee departs – which is happening in record numbers during the current “Great Resignation” – leaves companies conducting exit interviews, which can lead to valuable insight but are delivered too late to retain the talent.

Instead, employers can conduct “stay interviews” with current employees, which can improve employee retention and stave off unwanted exit interviews.  

Not only can a stay interview help improve employee retention during the tightest labor market in U.S. history, but they can also help bolster employee engagement which ideally will lead to better productivity.

So, consider stay interviews a win-win-win.

“Human resource departments are finding that stay interviews—conducted with current employees to gauge their job satisfaction—are the perfect antidote to exit interviews,” writes Paul Bergeron for the Society for Human Resource Management. “Given the surge in job hopping and the competition to hire and keep employees, many companies have found that stay interviews are helping reduce turnover while increasing production and satisfaction among workers.”

What are Stay Interviews?

Stay interviews can be formal but are typically informal sessions where management checks in with their employees and asks them questions about how they feel about topics ranging from their specific role in the company to the overall workplace culture.

“Think of it as the opposite of an exit interview: Instead of asking why an employee is quitting, a stay interview focuses on what motivates the employee to stick around, what could be better about their work experience and how they envision the next stage of their career within the organization,” says CNBC in “Why the ‘Stay Interview’ is the Next Big Trend of the Great Resignation.”

In the CNBC article, experts recommended that stay interviews:

  • Be informal and conversational
  • Feedback provided by the employee will be accepted with no fear of retaliation
  • Two-way dialogue instead of an interview
  • Should happen throughout the year and not be tied to set performance reviews

The stay interview is an important step but not the final step as the manager is responsible for bringing the feedback to the organization’s attention so they can adjust opportunities, tools and resources as needed.

Stay Interviews Important for Employee Retention, Engagement

Stay interviews help open lines of communication which should allow management to glean positive and negative feedback.

When this feedback is used to address workplace conditions, both employee engagement and employee retention improve -- two areas that are intertwined because focused and energized employees are less likely to seek employment elsewhere than those that are disengaged.

"We're now seeing happier employees who are eager to come or log in to work and contribute," Kate Grimaldi, senior director of enterprise talent strategy at Paylocity told SHRM about the effect of stay interviews. “And managers have become more effective because they know what employees care about personally and professionally, and what really motivates someone to remain with us.

Grimaldi told SHRM that the payoff was: “These discussions have led to exciting new assignments, new learning paths, or just improved relationships with employees and their direct managers, which has a real impact on retention."

17 Questions to Ask in Your Stay Interviews

It will help your management team to have some sample questions on hand when conducting the stay interviews.

Of course, as managers get used to having these stay interviews, they will be able to conduct them in informal sessions without prompts on hand as this will facilitate a more natural conversation and give-and-take with the employee.

Here are some sample stay interview questions that can be asked:

  1. What do you look forward to or what excites you when you come to work each day?
  2. What do you like the most or least about working here?
  3. Do you feel good about the impact of your work?
  4. What keeps you working here?
  5. What do you want to do more of at work?
  6. What do you want to do less of at work?
  7. If you could change something about your job, what would that be?
  8. Do you see a future for yourself at the company, and if so, how are things the same or different?
  9. What would make your job more satisfying?
  10. If you were a manager for a day, what would you do differently?
  11. How do you like to be recognized for your work?
  12. What talents do you have that the company is not utilizing in your current role?
  13. When was the last time you thought about leaving the company, and why?
  14. Would you recommend working here to job-seeking friends – why or why not?
  15. Do you feel like you have clear objectives and goals with your job?
  16. What should we change or adjust about our current offices and workplace environment?
  17. What software or tool that you use in your job is most valuable, and what software or tool that you use in your job has no value?

“The stay interview is a great way to make employees feel like they matter,” HR consultant and University of Phoenix career advisor Ricklyn Woods told CNBC. “They want to be seen, heard, and valued. So, ask them what they think and genuinely get to know their feedback.”